Through the windows of University City High School, Donte White saw a lifestyle that intrigued him more than the voice of his teacher. “Women,” he says with a chuckle, without going into much detail about street life, “And all the distractions that go along with it.” Dropping out of school between 11th and 12th grade to hang out with a slightly older crowd that we would deem “at-risk,” White put his ambition and dream of being an artist on hold to drift.
White, now 32, is the youngest of his four siblings of a tight-knit family and was never a problem child in school. “I was a little spoiled being the youngest,” he laughs, “But I was always a sharer and a giver.” White is reserved and carefully chooses his words. He still sketches and is contemplating taking courses at the Art Institute of Philadelphia. Mercy Neighborhood Ministries’ Adult Education program was recommended to him when he decided it was time for a change.
“I knew I needed my education. When you get older, jobs look for certain things and I realized I didn’t have that. I wanted to better myself.”
A sense of accomplishment, stability, and working toward a better life would be the theme of White’s current focus. He would like to be a homeowner and continue climbing the ladder into a career path.
“I definitely feel more accomplished. I have the status of ‘I have this.’ Because when you don’t, you feel embarrassed.” He explains that the sense of embarrassment is inevitable when entering a classroom environment after having been absent for such a lengthy period.
“You ask yourself, ‘Do you have the heart to do this?’” he says of his initial days at Mercy. “I felt lost at first, but once I got back into swing of it, I had more confidence. Everyone at Mercy was helpful and now it’s extended family.”
Upon waking each day, he prays, takes care of his daily errands, and by nightfall, he is making his way from his home in Fox Chase to the National Constitution Center where he works overnight for the maintenance crew. After completing his GED in 2013, he obtained a certificate from OIC, trained with Team Clean at the Navy Yard and has been working at the Constitution Center for several months. He got to experience Political Fest as a part of the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
“There was an intense feeling. People were definitely riled up,” White says. He’s been more tuned into politics this year along with most of the country. Thinking locally, he sees the need for the change in neighborhoods like ours and where he grew up in West Philly.
“Neighborhoods need more togetherness. When you’re divided in the way that they are, nothing good ever happens,” he says. “People need to realize that there’s more to life than their immediate surroundings. They need to see that an education can get them there. You might want other things, but in the future you’ll understand that school is what you need right now.”
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